© 2007 SAGE Publications
Rethinking the Dual City
Alexander J. Reichl
Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, New York
This article examines social polarization in New York City: first, as an objective condition among city neighborhoods; and second, as an issue in city politics. Data on income, poverty, housing, and crime provide little evidence of growing polarization between low- and high-income neighborhoods in the 1990s. However, the data reveal a striking contrast between the spectacular gains of core areas and the widespread stagnation and decline across low-, middle-, and high-income neighborhoods outside the core. Polarization has not proved a viable political issue because it becomes subsumed in racial/ethnic politics; yet the data suggest that progressives might prevail with a dual-city discourse that highlights the significance of polarization for neighborhoods outside the core.
Key Words: social polarization • New York City politics • dual city • neighborhood decline • urban neoliberalism
Exerpt P. 683
Despite Ferrer’s failures there are indications that a nascent outerborough coalition (one that bridges the racial/ethnic and class divides) stirs beneath the surface of New York politics, awaiting a political movement to represent its interests. For one thing there is some evidence that the outerborough coalition operates as something akin to the “potential groups” described by Truman (1951), which influence policy precisely because officials fear their mobilization. Mayor Bloomberg’s backpedaling on plans to curtail trash collection outside Manhattan, close zoos in Brooklyn and Queens, and eliminate a scholarship program for the city university can be interpreted as efforts to preempt swelling discontent in the outer boroughs. Indeed, midway through Bloomberg’s first term some observers saw a new “borough politics” emerging in opposition to the mayor’s handling of the city’s fiscal crisis (Steinhauer 2003). As one Democratic strategist put it: “[A] Democratic strategy for victory in the  mayoral race has to involve uniting African-Americans and Latinos with Whites in the outer boroughs who are unhappy with Bloomberg and who are upset about taxes and other issues” (quoted in Steinhauer 2003). Bloomberg’s image as a wealthy Manhattanite out of touch with the everyday struggles of middleclass New Yorkers seemed to provide a galvanizing target, and discursive trope, for an outer-borough coalition.